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How To Get Through To Your Man

I teach both men and women what I call Fierce Intimacy – taking each other on, standing up to one another with love. In Patriarchal culture, power and connection are split. You can be loving and accommodate, (as women did for years) or you can find your voice and roar, devil take the hindmost. I want you to speak up for your needs and cherish your partner in the same breath. The first step in the process occurs between your ears. I call it, remembering love – you recall that the person you’re speaking to is someone you love and that the reason why you’re talking is to make things better. Get centered in the non-reactive, adult part of you. I call this relational mindfulness: keeping your wits about you.

Once you’re centered and your partner is sincerely listening here are some tips. Let go of complaint and replace it with a request. Don’t tell your guy what he did wrong but what he could do right. “Don’t talk to me that way,” becomes, “I want to hear what you’re saying. Could you lower your voice so I can really receive it?” Men, by and large, are criticism phobic. Keep your message positive and lose the anger. To most men, a dissatisfied woman is a problem to be solved and a walking accusation. I tell women, you can express your feelings or you can get more of what you want. But you can’t do both at the same time.

Second, explicitly cherish the relationship; state your intentions. “Listen, I want to feel close to you. When you shut me out with silence I feel pushed away. Can you speak to me so I can feel warmly toward you and us, as I’m certain you want me to?”

Third, be willing to break down what you want and teach it to him. I call this, helping him win. In our culture, our relationship to relationships is passive. You get what you get and then complain about it. That’s the worst behavioral modification program I ever heard of. I want women to have more assertion up front and less resentment on the back end. “Listen, honey. I could use about fifteen minutes of venting. I want you to listen empathically. Don’t try to solve anything, don’t offer suggestions. Just be like a girlfriend. Say, ‘Honey that sucks. I’m sorry. Tell me more. Would you be willing to try that for me?” I know, it sounds like a lot of work. But, you see, I’ve listened to women for thirty years. I agree that most men know less about relationships than women do. So, roll up your sleeves and help out. If you want it, work for it. But be sure it’s from a place of humility. You are not the expert on how he should be. You’re the expert on how you would like him to be with you.

Finally, make it worth his while. Encourage don’t discourage. I ask women to celebrate the glass 15% full. It was only 5% full last week. This is how we treat our kids. If he’s really trying, just figure he’s an awkward beginner. Keep your bar high, but with patience, and positive reinforcement.

If none of this works, you may need to dare to rock the boat. Make it clear that you mean business, that these issues are really important and that it’s in his interest to take you seriously. If you still can’t get through, get professional help. And get help that will really help – a therapist who will support you as you stand up for increased intimacy. I don’t believe in “neutral” therapy. Intimacy is a good thing for everyone. I don’t want women to stand down from the insistence on real closeness, I want men to stand up and meet these new demands. The desire for increased emotional connection is terrific as far as I’m concerned. Now, let’s polish up that delivery.

About Terry Real: Terry is an internationally recognized family therapist, speaker and author. He founded the Relational Life Institute (RLI), which offers workshops for couples, individuals and parents around the country along with a professional training program for clinicians wanting to learn his RLT (Relational Life Therapy) methodology. A family therapist and teacher for more than twenty five years, Terry is the best-selling author of “I Don’t Want to Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression,” “How Can I Get Through to You? Reconnecting Men and Women,” and most recently, “The New Rules of Marriage: What You Need to Make Love Work.”